Judy Dempsey: Tragedy as Harbinger of Change





[Judy Dempsey writes for the International Herald Tribune.]

On Sunday evening, with Poles mourning the death of President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed the previous day in a plane crash en route to Katyn to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the murder of thousands of Polish officers, Russian state television broadcast “Katyn,” the award-winning movie made by the veteran Polish film director Andrzej Wajda.

This was the second time in a matter of days that the movie was screened on Russian television, a decision reported to have been made by Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

This time the film had a much bigger audience compared with the tiny number of viewers who had seen it on a culture channel with a limited audience. More than 30 million Russians now would be able to gain some understanding as to why Katyn underpins Poland’s national identity and why it has been an open wound in Poland’s difficult and emotionally charged relationship with Russia.

“It was incredible. We can’t underestimate the importance of that film being shown on Russian state television,” said Helena Luczwyo, a former Solidarity activist and until recently deputy editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper she helped to establish. “Maybe now the relationship between Poland and Russia can leap into the future.”

If so, it could have a profound impact on the future of Europe....

Mr. Putin’s emotional reaction to the death of Lech Kaczynski and 96 leading military and political officials and crew has convinced many Poles of a new beginning with Russia. Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, who says he believes his country is vital for building a strategic partnership between Europe and Russia, said “a psychological breakthrough has happened.”

If Poland seizes this chance, it could become a leader in Europe and for the first time feel safe with all its borders. Russia, in turn, could regain its centuries-old closeness to Europe, which could give it a new and more open sense of identity.



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